“I would argue it’s the nuclear option, hence why we’ve heard today that it’s never been done on a state agency.”

Lawmakers on Beacon Hill said they are frustrated with the dysfunction at the Cannabis Control Commission, but they were wary of what they called the “nuclear option”—following Inspector General Jeffrey Shapiro’s advice to place the agency under a receivership.

“I want to underscore, as someone who has been in the government for a long time, that receivership is a really big deal,” said Rep. Rob Consalvo (D) of Boston, one of the vice chairs of the Joint Committee on Public Policy. “I would argue it’s the nuclear option, hence why we’ve heard today that it’s never been done on a state agency.”

Rep. Daniel Donahue (D) of Worcester, the chair of the committee, said he wasn’t surprised by Shapiro’s proposal. “This letter, though its timing might have been surprising, was not a shock and echoes concerns we have heard from other avenues,” he said.

Rep. Michael Soter, a Republican from Bellingham, was far more blunt. “This is a $7 billion operation,” he said. “The problem I have is that I’m afraid we are running like the Wild West down there.”

Both Consalvo and Donahue pushed Shapiro to explain why he landed on receivership as the correct option as opposed to other fixes to the Cannabis Control Commission’s problems. Consalvo even brought up alternative options – bringing in someone from outside to review personnel issues or bringing in a human resources expert to advise the agency.

Shapiro argued in his testimony and in his response to questions from legislators that there is an unclear chain of command currently at the commission that needs an immediate fix in addition to a long-term legislative solution to clarify what he says are ambiguities in key leadership roles.

“[The problem] has much to do with the commission’s governing statute, which is self-contradictory and provides no clear guidance on who is responsible for leading the agency,” said Shapiro in his testimony.

Shapiro pointed to a lack of clarity in how authority is distributed between the commission’s chair and the executive director. He didn’t blame individuals, but said the ambiguity in the statute is at the root of the problems at the commission.

“I respectfully suggest appointing a receiver this session will steady the ship while the Legislature takes time next session,” said Shapiro. “Time is of the essence. The longer the CCC flounders, the less certainty and stability for applicants and licensees, patients, and caregivers, investors, consumers, and host communities.”

Even Shapiro admitted that the recommendation to place a state agency under receivership is unusual.

“It certainly is a big decision to get there and to make that recommendation. It’s highly unusual and these are a highly unusual set of circumstances,” said Shapiro. “It goes back to the structural piece of who’s in charge and what the roles are.”

In his testimony, Shapiro pointed out that the past two chairs of the commission have left under murky circumstances – the inaugural chair, Steven Hoffman, resigned five months before his term was up with no explanation, and the current chair, Shannon O’Brien, was suspended back in September 2023 by the treasurer. This led to multiple commissioners arguing about who should get to occupy the seat of acting chair.

O’Brien is still suspended and has participated in closed-door meetings with the treasurer to defend herself against allegations of racial insensitivity and workplace toxicity, which O’Brien denies. She is now awaiting the treasurer’s decision on whether she will be fired from the position.

There has also been high turnover at the CCC with a high vacancy rate, particularly among leadership positions. Shapiro said that the commission has over 20 vacancies, six of which are top jobs.

This article first appeared on CommonWealth Beacon and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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